Why Climate Change Is Threatening Your Caffeine Addiction

By Lucy Reiger, 2019 Alumni.

It is no secret that Melbournians love their coffee.

Whether it be a latte or an extra hot double shot flat white with almond milk, Melbourne’s caffeine addiction has helped it become the undisputed ‘coffee capital of Australia’.

Yet climate change poses a serious threat to the future of coffee production, meaning our consumption habits could be drastically impacted in the near future.

Having recently returned from a field trip in East Timor, I have seen just how difficult it is to both grow and make a viable living from coffee – and I’m afraid to say that with climate change, it’s about to get a whole lot worse.

Melbourne is famous for its love of coffee. Image Credit: PLAYSTUDIO/Shutterstock

How Coffee becomes Coffee

Growing coffee is not for the faint-hearted.

It is a long and time-consuming process, where growers often receive little reward for their effort. The coffee grower I met with in East Timor receives a mere 0.35c per kilo from the American corporation he sells it to. Think about that next time you spend $4.00 on a single cup.

But how is coffee actually produced?

You may be surprised, but the humble coffee bean begins its life as a seed inside the fruit of the coffee plant. The coffee fruit is picked when the berries ripens from a green to a bright red shade. The picking process is commonly done by hand, ensuring that only the best quality berries are selected.

Coffee beans are the seeds of the coffee fruit. Source: Personal Photo

The fruit is then pounded and the white beans are released. The flesh of the fruit is then discarded, while the beans are promptly stored in airtight containers for 24 hours. The beans are then washed to remove any excess juice or flesh from the fruit, before then being properly soaked in water for another 24 hours.

Once clean, the coffee beans are laid out to dry for approximately 15 days, depending on the grower’s preference. When completely free of any moisture, the beans are then ready to be roasted. It is the roasting process where the bean transforms from its original white colour to the iconic dark brown we associate coffee with. After almost 3 weeks, the coffee beans are finally ready to be used or sold.

The Threat of Climate Change to Coffee

Climate change poses a threat to coffee production as the plants require certain conditions in order to grow to their full potential.

In East Timor, coffee plants require 2000-3000 mm of rain per year and a relatively humidity level between 70 and 90%. A distinct dry season is also needed to allow the plant to flower and the berries to ripen. Yet climate change is expected to bring more rainfall to East Timor over time. This will likely change the length and timing of Timor’s dry season, which may impact the quality and quantity of the coffee fruit produced.

The Importance of Coffee in Timor-Leste

For many nations, coffee is a major export. However for East Timor, coffee accounts for approximately 90% of all foreign exchange. The country effectively lives and breathes coffee.

A report published by the East Timor Planning Commission estimates that 25,000 families in East Timor derive a significant proportion of their income from coffee production, while 15,000 derive a small portion of their income from its production. Therefore, climate change also poses a significant threat to the livelihoods of many Timorese locals.

So what should you take from all this? Well, next time you sit down to have a coffee, don’t chug it down in 2 minutes. Instead, savour the flavour and appreciate its addictive properties, because all too soon coffee could be a luxury few of us will be able to afford.